Small Hotels; Big Flavors
Two new offerings
Big hotels boast some big-name restaurants here in New Orleans, but lately some boutique hotels have been rolling their options into the mix. And with the upcoming grand opening of the Ace Hotel in spring and the eventual return of the Pontchartrain on St. Charles Avenue, it looks like this trend will continue. With this in mind, here’s a look at a few of the smaller hotels around town and what they offer.
Nina Compton of “Top Chef” fame generated a lot of national buzz when she announced plans to open up shop in the Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery in the Warehouse District. Born and raised in St. Lucia, she felt the port city cultural crossroads of the Crescent City dovetailed nicely with her Caribbean background and her Italian and French professional training. “I’d always wanted to live in New Orleans,” Compton says. “People just love to eat here – it makes it very attractive.”
Her restaurant, Compère Lapin, is attractive as well. The main dining room’s soaring space straddles both industrial and antiquarian themes while the generously sized pass-through bar area offers line-of-sight views into the kitchen. Its bustle spills out into the lobby itself, stamping the boutique hotel with an immediate culinary identity.
The menu is seasonal and ingredient-driven, so expect it to change often. But one recent entrée, Duo of Beef, pulled off a neat trick: Cubes of braised short rib and strips of seared sirloin were plated atop fresh Cici beans and garnished with pea shoots. A pair of sauces decorated the plate, one a beefy reduction of the braising sauce akin to a demi-glace and the other a light, summery purée of green peas.
As a twist, when it arrived tableside foie gras was shaved over it, a carnivorous take on Parmesan cheese. Here is a beef and foie dish that managed to be substantive, light and summery at the same time.
Big movers include the Curried Goat, customized with Compton’s stamp of plantain gnocchi in lieu of the usual rice. Consider ordering pretty much anything made with Caribbean ingredients, like the conch croquettes, as they stand out from the crowd and play to her strengths. And while Compton works closely with local purveyors such as Pelican Produce, a new purveyor out of Miami will help her to bring in even more Caribbean-sourced ingredients, like breadfruit and soursop.
On the drink side, expect bar manager Ricky Gomez to make good use of these same seasonal ingredients. “Ricky is very attuned to my cooking,” Compton says. “When we developed the cocktail program he tasted everything and we talked a lot about how the drinks and food would work together. He really did his homework.”
Compère Lapin is open daily for lunch and dinner and offers small plates as well for the bar. Valet parking is available as well for a $5 charge.
On the far side of the French Quarter in the Hotel Provincial is chef Alex Harrell’s Angeline, tucked into the space formerly occupied by Stella!. After the better part of two decades in kitchens, Harrell was ready for a place of his own. So when he heard about the surprise closure of Stella!, he acted fast. Harrell and the hotel worked out a deal, the main concession being that he was required to offer breakfast. Buildout was a simple affair as the kitchen was in good shape. “Scott Boswell took most of the toys, though,” Harrell says. “When we came here there was only like one broken thermal circulator left at the top of a closet.”
Menu-wise, Angeline runs thick in the pack of Contemporary Southern eateries that are flourishing both locally and nationally, though it’s no affectation on his part. “Southern food and southern cooking – it’s just something that I’d grown up with in South Alabama,” Harrell points out. “I always returned to it wherever I worked because it’s just so deeply rooted.”
Harrell’s approach is to essentially marry two concepts – the seasonal and regional ingredients of southern cooking approached with European technique, predominately those of the northern Mediterranean. In addition, he adds a good measure of historical perspective.
“Southern food often gets a bad rap for the misperception of its being doused in pork fat, bacon and bourbon, then fried,” he points out. “But Southern food was originally very agrarian. It was vegetable-and-grain-based, because that was what people could grow here. Meat usually came from whatever they could hunt and fish and raise on small plots. You didn’t kill a chicken every week for a fried chicken dinner because you needed those eggs. That idea of everything heavy and fried isn’t really accurate.”
To that end, expect to find a lighter take on Southern cuisine and also one that often takes southern ingredients and recasts them in European technique. His squash blossoms are an example, using local squash blossoms and local black drum for the mousseline, and finishing it with blanched tomatoes, some crème fraiche for tang and lemon oil for brightness. The Rabbit Milanaise has proven popular as well. “I love rabbit, always have. I put it on because I wanted it there, but honestly I didn’t expect it to move well,” Harrell says. “It has become our biggest seller.”
Take a Spin
The Hotel Monteleone may be in the thick of the French Quarter’s fray, but it retains plenty enough charm to draw locals to its classic (and revolving) watering hole, the Carousel Bar. It also houses Criollo, a restaurant that takes a fresh look at the colonial heritage of Creole cuisine. Well-executed favorites like Grilled Pompano share space with Gulf Shrimp Ravigote plated alongside fried green tomatoes. Be sure to enjoy a before-or-after in the Carousel Bar. And don’t worry – it doesn’t spin very fast.
Go for the Food, Stay for the Food
535 Tchoupitoulas St.
Lunch and dinner daily
1032 Charters St.
Breakfast Mondays-Fridays; brunch Saturdays-Sundays; dinner nightly
214 Royal St.